They all knew this day was coming.
Players knew a while ago that June 15, 2010 was the deadline for restricted free agents to sign the tender offers they received from their teams back in March. Most of these players were well informed a year ago that if the NFL went to an uncapped year -- which we are currently in the midst of -- that restricted free agency would be expanded by two years.
Green: Missing McNeill
Of the two holdouts, the higher priority for the Chargers is probably Marcus McNeill. I think anytime you're missing the left tackle who is protecting the blind side of the quarterback, that has to be the priority.
That's not to say that Vincent Jackson isn't a valuable part of the offense, but the Chargers have other weapons in Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Darren Sproles. Even though Jackson does a great job of stretching the field to open the other guys underneath, they have other targets. As a biased quarterback, I'd rather have my left tackle with the team.
-- Trent Green
That shouldn't have been a news flash for any of the players, but there seems to be shock and outrage by many who say the "new" system is punishing them when, in fact, the truth is the mechanism was put in place as a "trigger" to encourage a CBA extension so not to have this situation. As one GM said the other day, "I would love to extend all of my restricted free agents into long-term deals, and we may by season's end, but right now signing the tender buys them and me time to work things out."
Players want long-term deals and so do coaches, but there are an unusual number of coaches in the final year of their contracts because owners have elected to wait and see what 2011 brings. Still, I don't hear any of them complaining about their situations. As one coach entering the last year of his deal said to me back at the NFL Annual Meeting in March, "I have no leverage, and I'll just go out and coach as hard as I can and let the chips fall where they fall."
A player might argue that it's comparing apples and oranges because the coach doesn't risk injury, but I would counter with the fact that most coaches don't make the kind of money that top players make, which means one bad season in the last year of a contract could be the end of his NFL head coaching career.
A few restricted free agent stories that warrant discussion...
» First and foremost, there's Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who is a solid young player at age 27. In 2009, Jackson had 68 receptions (tied for 30th in the NFL) and nine receiving touchdowns (tied for 10th in the NFL). He made $525,000 and received the highest 2010 tender for a restricted free agent -- $3.268 million, a pay raise of $2.7 million. If Jackson refuses to sign that tender, he will have his 2010 salary reduced to $584,000, resulting in his game checks (17 weeks) to drop from $192,235 to $34,352. If he decides to hold out 10 weeks, which is his right, he will lose an additional $343,520 plus all the daily fines for missing camp practices. If Jackson plays this thing out, he will go home with a year of credit but with close to $3 million less and, with a lockout possible in 2011, taking a big risk. He has to be smart and ask himself if he will ever recoup that money?
»Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis signed his tender for 3.268 million and proceeded to go out to practice and tear his anterior cruciate ligament. Keep in mind he had an ACL operation prior to the offer, and the club could have tried a lower tender offer thinking no other team would sign him to an offer sheet. Davis will be paid the $3.268 million. What if he didn't sign that tender and the team reduced his offer to 110 percent of his 2009 salary and then he tore his ACL? Injuries have to play a role in a player's decision to sign the high tender and protect himself the best he can.
"It serves little to no purpose to withhold services in an industry that can replenish its work force with colleges producing talent and with productive veterans out of work."
» O.J. Atogwe was a franchise player for the St. Louis Rams last season and was paid $6.34 million. This year he received a low restricted free agent tender nobody expected him to sign. The Rams still want him back at a very good price but not at the $7 million-a-year, which would have been 110 percent of his 2009 salary. Consequently, they released him to see what the market was for this fine young player coming off shoulder surgery. To date, he has not found a deal good enough to sign and the Rams continue to compete for his services. The Ravens, under the direction of general manager Ozzie Newsome, have always been a team unafraid to let their players test the market, and now it looks like Rams are doing the same thing. As one Rams official said to me, "We want him back at the right price, and I would be surprised if we don't make the best offer." I wonder if Atogwe might be able to work off the Antoine Bethea deal signed by the Colts safety for $27 million over four years with $18 million in the first two years.
» Speaking of Bethea, here's a restricted free agent with a first round tender who got a long-term deal done. Bethea has proven to be a very durable player with 32 consecutive starts, and he answered the challenge when Bob Sanders went down with injuries. How did Bethea figure out how to get a long-term deal? I would venture to guess that other players who sign their tenders are not only securing the most money they ever made in a season, but also buying time to negotiate a long term deal with their club.
I don't know how players came up with the concept of "withholding services" in discussing the only leverage they have during these difficult negotiations. Do you think a coach in the last year of his deal would consider "withholding services" as a technique to get a contract extension? Trust me, it serves little to no purpose to withhold services in an industry that can replenish its work force with colleges producing talent and with veterans like Terrell Owens, Brian Westbrook, Keith Bulluck, Kevin Mawae, and Flozell Adams currently out of work.